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"I must go"
Rufford, March 5th.
My Dear Miss Trefoil,
I am indeed sorry that I should have offended you by acceding to a suggestion which, I think I may say, originated with your mother. When she told me that her circumstances and yours were not in a pecuniary point of view so comfortable as they might be, I did feel that it was in my power to alleviate that trouble. The sum of money mentioned by my lawyer was certainly named by your mother. At any rate pray believe that I meant to be of service.
As to naming a place where we might meet, it really could be of no service. It would be painful to both of us and could have no good result. Again apologizing for having inadvertently offended you by adopting the views which Lady Augustus entertained, I beg to assure you that I am,
This letter came from the peer himself, without assistance. After his interview with Lady Augustus he simply told his Mentor, Sir George, that he had steadfastly denied the existence of any engagement, not daring to acquaint him with the offer he had made. Neither, therefore, could he tell Sir George of the manner in which the young lady had repudiated the offer. That she should have repudiated it was no doubt to her credit. As he thought of it afterwards he felt that had she accepted it she would have been base indeed. And. yet, as he thought of what had taken place at the house in Piccadilly, he was confident that the proposition had in some way come from her mother. No doubt he had first written a sum of money on the fragment of paper which she had preserved;--and the evidence would so far go against him. But Lady Augustus had spoken piteously of their joint poverty,--and had done so in lieu of insisting with a mother's indignation on her daughter's rights. Of course she had intended to ask for money. What other purpose could she have had? It was so he had argued at the moment, and so he had argued since. If it were so he would not admit that he had behaved unlike a gentleman in offering the money. Yet he did not dare to tell Sir George, and therefore was obliged to answer Arabella's letter without assistance.
He was not altogether sorry to have his 8,000 pounds, being fully as much alive to the value of money as any brother peer in the kingdom, but he would sooner have paid the money than be subject to an additional interview. He had been forced up to London to see first the father and then the mother, and thought that he had paid penalty enough for any offence that he might have committed. An additional interview with the young lady herself would distress him beyond anything,--would be worse than any other interview. He would sooner leave Rufford and go abroad than encounter it. He promised himself that nothing should induce him to encounter it. Therefore he wrote the above letter.
Arabella, when she received it, had ceased to care very much about the insult of the offer. She had then quarrelled with her mother, and had insisted on some separation even without any arrangement as to funds. Requiring some confidant, she had told a great deal, though not quite all, to Mrs. Connop Green, and that lady had passed her on for a while to her husband's aunt in London. At this time she had heard nothing of John Morton's will, and had perhaps thought with some tender regret of the munificence of her other lover, which she had scorned. But she was still intent on doing something. The fury of her despair was still on her, so that she could not weigh the injury she might do herself against some possible gratification to her wounded spirit. Up to this moment she had formed no future hope. At this epoch she had no string to her bow. John Morton was dead; and she had absolutely wept for him in solitude, though she had certainly never loved him. Nor did she love Lord Rufford. As far as she knew how to define her feelings, she thought that she hated him. But she told herself hourly that she had not done with him. She was instigated by the true feminine Medea feeling that she would find some way to wring his heart,-- even though in the process she might suffer twice as much as he did. She had convinced herself that in this instance he was the offender. "Painful to both of us!" No doubt! But because it would be painful to him, it should be exacted. Though he was a coward and would fain shirk such pain, she could be brave enough. Even though she should be driven to catch him by the arm in the open street, she would have it out with him. He was a liar and a coward, and she would, at any rate, have the satisfaction of telling him so.
She thought much about it before she could resolve on what she would do. She could not ask old Mrs. Green to help her. Mrs. Green was a kind old woman, who had lived much in the world, and would wish to see much of it still, had age allowed her. Arabella Trefoil was at any rate the niece of a Duke, and the Duke, in this affair with Lord Rufford, had taken his niece's part. She opened her house and as much of her heart as was left to Arabella, and was ready to mourn with her over the wicked lord. She could sympathise with her too, as to the iniquities of her mother, whom none of the Greens loved. But she would have been frightened by any proposition as to Medean vengeance.
In these days,--still winter days, and not open to much feminine gaiety in London, even if, in the present constitution of her circumstances, gaiety would have come in her way,--in these days the hours in her life which interested her most, were those in which Mr. Mounser Green was dutifully respectful to his aunt. Patagonia had not yet presented itself to him. Some four or five hundred a year, which the old lady had at her own disposal, had for years past contributed to Mounser's ideas of duty. And now Arabella's presence at the small house in Portugal Street certainly added a new zest to those ideas. The niece of the Duke of Mayfair, and the rejected of Lord Rufford, was at the present moment an interesting young woman in Mounser Green's world. There were many who thought that she had been ill-used. Had she succeeded, all the world would have pitied Lord Rufford; but as he had escaped, there was a strong party for the lady. And gradually Mounser Green, who some weeks ago had not thought very much of her, became one of the party. She had brought her maid with her; and when she found that Mounser Green came to the house every evening, either before or after dinner, she had recourse to her accustomed lures. She would sit quiet, dejected, almost broken-hearted in the corner of a sofa; but when he spoke to her she would come to life and raise her eyes,--not ignoring the recognised dejection of her jilted position, not pretending to this minor stag of six tines that she was a sprightly unwooed young fawn, fresh out of the forest,-- almost asking him to weep with her, and playing her accustomed lures, though in a part which she had not hitherto filled.
But still she was resolved that her Jason should not as yet be quit of his Medea. So she made her plot. She would herself go down to Rufford and force her way into her late lover's presence in spite of all obstacles. It was possible that she should do this and get back to London the same day,--but, to do so, she must leave London by an early train at 7 A.M., stay seven or eight hours at Rufford, and reach the London station at 10 P.M. For such a journey there must be some valid excuse made to Mrs. Green. There must be some necessity shown for such a journey. She would declare that a meeting was necessary with her mother, and that her mother was at any town she chose to name at the requisite distance from London. In this way she might start with her maid before daylight, and get back after dark, and have the meeting with her mother--or with Lord Rufford as the case might be. But Mounser Green knew very well that Lady Augustus was in Orchard Street, and knew also that Arabella was determined not to see her mother. And if she declared her purpose, without a caution to Mounser Green, the old woman would tell her nephew, and the nephew would unwittingly expose the deceit. It was necessary therefore that she should admit Mounser Green to, at any rate, half a confidence. This she did. "Don't ask me any questions," she said. "I know I can trust you. I must be out of town the whole day, and perhaps the next. And your aunt must not know why I am going or where. You will help me?" Of course he said that he would help her; and the lie, with a vast accompaniment of little lies, was told. There must be a meeting on business matters between her and her mother, and her mother was now in the neighbourhood of Birmingham. This was the lie told to Mrs. Green. She would go down, and, if possible, be back on the same day. She would take her maid with her. She thought that in such a matter as that she could trust her maid, and was in truth afraid to travel alone.
"I will come in the morning and take Miss Trefoil to the station," said Mounser, "and will meet her in the evening."` And so the matter was arranged.
The journey was not without its drawbacks and almost its perils. Summer or winter Arabella Trefoil was seldom out of bed before nine. It was incumbent on her now to get up on a cold March morning,--when the lion had not as yet made way for the lamb,--at half-past five. That itself seemed to be all but impossible to her. Nevertheless she was ready and had tried to swallow half a cup of tea, when Mounser Green came to the door with a cab a little after six. She had endeavoured to dispense with this new friend's attendance, but he had insisted, assuring her that without some such aid no cab would be forthcoming. She had not told him and did not intend that he should know to what station she was going. "You begged me to ask no questions," he said when he was in the cab with her, the maid having been induced most unwillingly to seat herself with the cabman on the box,--"and I have obeyed you. But I wish I knew how I could help you."
"You have helped me, and you are helping me. But do not ask anything more."
"Will you be angry with me if I say that I fear you are intending something rash?"
"Of course I am. How could it be otherwise with me? Don't you think there are turns in a person's life when she must do something rash. Think of yourself. If everybody crushed you; if you were ill-treated beyond all belief; if the very people who ought to trust you doubted you, wouldn't you turn upon somebody and rend him?"
"Are you going to rend anybody?"
"I do not know as yet."
"I wish you would let me go down with you."
"No; that you certainly cannot. You must not come even into the station with me. You have been very good to me. You will not now turn against me."
"I certainly will do nothing--but what you tell me."
"Then here we are,--and now you must go. Jane can carry my hand-bag and cloak. If you choose to come in the evening at ten it will be an additional favour."
"I certainly will do so. But Miss Trefoil, one word." They were now standing under cover of the portico in front of the railway station, into which he was not to be allowed to enter. "What I fear is this; that in your first anger you may be tempted to do something which may be injurious to your prospects in life"
"I have no prospects in life, Mr. Green."
"Ah;--that is just it. There are for most of us moments of unhappiness in which we are tempted by our misery to think that we are relieved at any rate from the burden of caution, because nothing that can occur to us can make us worse than we are."
"Nothing can make me worse than I am."
"But in a few months or weeks," continued Mounser Green, bringing up in his benevolence all the wisdom of his experience, "we have got a new footing amidst our troubles, and then we may find how terrible is the injury which our own indiscretion has brought on us. I do not want to ask any questions, but--it might be so much better that you should abandon your intention, and go back with me."
She seemed to be almost undecided for a moment as she thought over his words. But she remembered her pledge to herself that Lord Rufford should find that she had not done with him yet. "I must go," she said in a hoarse voice.
"If you must-"
"I must go. I have no way out of it. Good-bye, Mr. Green; I cannot tell you how much obliged to you I am." Then he turned back and she went into the station and took two first-class tickets for Rufford. At that moment Lord Rufford was turning himself comfortably in his bed. How would he have sprung up, and how would he have fled, had he known the evil that was coming upon him! This happened on a Thursday, a day on which, as Arabella knew, the U.R.U. did not go out;--the very Thursday on which John Morton was buried and the will was read at Bragton.
She was fully determined to speak her mind to the man and to be checked by no feminine squeamishness. She would speak her mind to him if she could force her way into his presence. And in doing this she would be debarred by no etiquette. It might be that she would fail, that he would lack the courage to see her, and would run away, even before all his servants, when he should hear who was standing in his hall. But if he did so she would try again, even though she should have to ride out into the hunting-field after him. Face to face she would tell him that he was a liar and a slanderer and no gentleman, though she should have to run round the world to catch him. When she reached Rufford she went to the town and ordered breakfast and a carriage. As soon as she had eaten the meal she desired the driver in a clear voice to take her to Rufford Hall. Was her maid to go with her? No. She would be back soon, and her maid would wait there till she had returned.
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